Monday, November 22, 2010

The Phantom Light

Catalogue Raisonné: Powell (Cassingle B-Side)

The Phantom Light by Michael Powell, 1935:

1930s trains-cinema = suspense, because replete with sudden noises / A psychic society (Wales replete with folklore), which should have been a film named The Phantom Light's crux, except, as it turned out, in the case of a "quota quickie" / You see English producers then as now have 'taste' / So lots of business with planting a palm on Binnie Hale's ass to shove her up the lighthouse ladder / She dries her fanny behind a support pillar / Meat cute / The recurring conceit: a man who may be 'mad' (but who knows) restrained in an alcove — (keep cutting back to him as needed) / (Like a friend of mine once said, it was either his own line or he was quoting Larry Sanders: "Punch it up with a couple fucks") / A film that keeps frustrating the arrival of an actual phantom beyond the maddie... swapping it out for the "phantom light" (like when a UFO turns out to be a buggy front-room switch in a pasha's dacha)... and for music-hall repartée about "Sunday trousers" / A strange vertical geography that doesn't exactly mesh — we learn the piping running up and down the lighthouse heights ends at the base in weights for the clockwork, whilst other rooms have skinnier through-shafts because here there are only cables passing through — this is conveyed through dialogue / I imagine what Edgar Ulmer could have done with this scenario / The shadow of action — not a movie, but something containing the traits of movies / An amazing shot, amazing because it's documentary, of a man, bare-chested, jumping from crags, into nocturnal sea and swimming off / The whole's almost 'abstractly' incoherent / But '30s fetishism! — still have the filim stock and the light! — 500 setups lending the craft sheen / Though Powell would become a master, this picture's still very worth watching: example of a future-master working in the '30s 'nevertheless' being not as good a filmmaker as Johnnie To / Or Edgar Ulmer

The Phantom Light by Michael Powell, 1935:


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